The stricken supermaxi, Skandia, has lost her massive keel and capsized in the Tasman Sea late today as skipper Grant Wharington and his crew flew into Hobart after taking to liferafts earlier in the day.
Skandia tonight is floating upside down, some 80 nautical miles offshore.
A tug is on its way in an attempt to salvage the 98-footer which is wallowing in huge seas east of Flinders, off the north-east coast of the island state of Tasmania. It is not known if her towering mast has broken. (54 of the 116 boat fleet have now retired from the race)
Meanwhile, the last surviving super maxi in the decimated fleet, Ludde Ingvall’s 90-footer Nicorette is sailing conservatively close inshore down the Tasmanian East Coast as the strong to galeforce southerly winds show signs of easing.
At 8.30pm, well-known retired ocean racing yachtsman Graeme “Frizzle” Freeman sighted Nicorette from his home on the East Coast, sailing inshore of Maria Island, obviously seeking the calmer waters.
Skandia’s skipper, Grant Wharington, confirmed the situation with his boat at a press conference at the Rolex Media Centre in Hobart this evening. He said the canting keel, which had become jammed to starboard, had broken off late this afternoon and the boat had rolled over.
After taking to two liferafts this morning, and being picked up by the Tasmanian Water Police boat Van Diemen, the 16-man crew was taken to Lady Barron on Flinders Island. They then flew to Hobart by chartered light aircraft.
This evening, before a packed press conference, Wharington, from Mornington Yacht Club in Victoria, said he was devastated when he was forced to get off his boat and into a liferaft.
Flanked by his navigator, Will Oxley and tactician Ian ‘Barny” Walker, Wharington told journalists at the Rolex Media Centre that Skandia had been sailing very well when their canting keel failed.
“We were going so well,” Wharington said. “We were sailing conservatively on port tack heading inshore where there would be calmer water conditions when we landed off a large rogue wave. At the time we were sailing under No 4 jib and two reefs in the main…very comfortable with the situation.”
The impact bent both hydraulic rams controlling the big canting keel, which came loose and swung to one side, laying the boat on its side.
The crew was able to stabilise the keel for a time and began motoring downwind. However, the keel came loose again and began chopping through the hull of the boat. With a police launch fast approaching, and afraid that the keel could fall off the yacht, capsizing it, at 8:00 am the 16 members of the crew transferred to liferafts, and were taken aboard the police launch Van Diemen about a half hour later.
Walker, who has skippered the yacht over some 20,000 nautical miles on deliveries with a small crew to and from races, said that he felt very lucky that the failure had happened when there were rescue launches available and media helicopters overhead. “If it had happened a thousand miles from nowhere it would be a very long wait for the aircraft,” he said.
Wharington said that he would not know why the keel had failed until the boat is retrieved and the broken hydraulics can be examined. However he still believes in the new canting keel technology. “We are effectively like test pilots rolling around in formula one racing cars, and I am still a bit baffled as to what actually happened.”
“We are lucky to get out of this alive and sail another yacht race, “ he added.